Lace and tulle are everywhere.

"Hold still, please," Cami murmurs as I suck in my gut. "This won't take a moment—"

"Ow!" I cry. The sharp and sudden sting in my back retreats.

"Sorry, sorry," Cami hisses, "It's nearly… there."

She stands back. The pink tulle dress flows down my chest and flares at the waist, embroidered with hundreds of little red roses. I tense and relax my shoulders in succession – the sweetheart neckline doesn't move. Good. The last thing I want is for my dress to drop and to bare my bra to the entire congregation.

"How does it feel?" asks Cami.

"Like it will stay," I say, beaming.

Lilly waddles over. It's almost impossible for her to move, because of course she's chosen the most outrageously large ball gown she could find to wear. She gestures for me to turn left, then right, to pick up the hem from my knees and twirl. Then she claps, beaming.

"You look beautiful," she signs.

"It's a beautiful dress," I sign back. "Thank you for choosing it."

Cami is resplendent in a similar design, embroidered with red roses, only the fabric is a pale green, and Lilly's other friends Maya and Louise are in shades of blue and purple. Lilly's mother Rachel watches from the sofa, her face a permanent waterfall of tears, but she attempts to hide her bittersweet pride beneath an embroidered handkerchief.

Cami nods. "The pin should hold up the dress for the broken button. Your hair will cover it." She steps forwards again to adjust the curls over the back zip. "Perfect."

Lilly claps exasperatedly. "I hope I don't have to pee."

"Don't say that now," Cami signs back, equally as exasperated. "We just got that on you."

There's a knock at the door. "All right, girls!" Lilly's father Liam calls from the other side. "It's time!"

Cami signs for Lilly's benefit, and she inhales a long, deep breath. Her bare arms begin to shake. Cami takes her hands. Then me. All the bridesmaids do. Rachel stands and squeezes her shoulder. We don't have to exchange words or signs to show our support for her. She's going to be just fine.

Finally we drape the veil over her face, obscuring the pretty pink make up and full lashes that flutter against powdered cheeks. Behind her is a cascade of blonde curls, festooned with roses and dewy pearls. She signs.

"Don't let me trip."

Rachel takes her arm and guides her out of the chamber. The cathedral is close quarters and tightly compacted – at least, it is until we make our way around two corridors. I take the bouquet resting on the side, and peer into the cathedral hall. High arches fall from their taper at the height of the ceiling, draped with white and gold silk, and the stained-glass windows breathe crystallised prisms of light onto the gold carpet. The pews are brimming with guests on both sides. From the backs of their heads I recognise so many of Roy's Selected on the left – Aunties Maeve and Luna the most prominent, nearer the front, but others are here too. Ambrosia and Avianna. Yuriko, Sherlock, Ferelith, Persephone, Riley, Natasha and her daughter. My cousins Barney and Alisa and the triple menaces Junior, Charlie and Yvette are clearly playing I Spy to pass the time, for all the moments they point up at the vibrant displays of lily bouquets or the bearded man rocking out a jaunty tune on the organ.

On the right are more familiar faces. The former Selected have taken three rows for themselves, a sea of suits and chuckles and gesticulations. Dominik is signing a book for Grayson. Nathaniel and Valerian are conversing genially. Kingsley's presence draws a few glares, but everyone's in too good a mood to kill it by calling him out on behaviours long past. It's good to see them all again, after so long. My family are closer to the front, split between right and left.

"There's the bride," says Liam. He lifts the corner of her veil to let him see her, and gestures with his arm. She smiles and offers it. With Rachel on one side, and Liam on the other, she's ready to walk down the aisle.

The priest gives us a nod of affirmation. We're ready. The marital march begins. The congregation stands, and all eyes turn towards us.

Next to Liam, Easton beams. "Can I go now?"

"Yep," Liam says. "That's your cue."

"Yesssss!"

He skips down the aisle practically dunking the petals onto the floor. Everyone laughs. I go next. One foot forwards – and I have to be careful, because these heels are very high, much higher than I'm used to. People grin as I pass, and I marvel in their awe and admiration. In my excitement I can't help but scour the right side with anticipation. I had to get up so early this morning to get here and help Lilly prepare to walk, so I didn't get any time to spend for myself.

But then, behind JJ's parents, I see Max. Dapper in a navy suit and waistcoat, his dark hair swept neatly to the side, and a shiny pink tie, the shade the same colour as my dress. His serious features soften when our eyes meet, and I almost trip then and there for how good he makes me feel. All he has to do is see me for me.

Once I'm at the front, I step to the side, where the bridesmaids have been allocated seats, and wait for Cami, Maya and Louise to follow in. Lilly and her parents come to the end of the aisle and finally the parties merge with JJ, Easton and his groomsmen. JJ takes Lilly's hands and rubs them gently before he lifts the veil, revealing her effervescent smile. It's a beautiful moment that passes between.

"Wow," he mumbles as he signs. "You look beautiful."

Lilly rests her palm against her cheek in embarrassment. The ceremony begins. The minister signs as someone on speaker translates, and I squeeze the bouquet stems in anticipation. JJ stumbles over his vows in his nerves, but Lilly holds onto his arm, letting him know it's okay to pause and take a breath. He does. Then he grins blithely, like even his mistakes can't ruin the day.

And when the vows and rings are exchanged and the minister happy, he signs, "I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss."

Lilly leaps into JJ's arms. Everyone coos as they kiss, deeply, happily, like nothing is wrong in the world, so blissful in their affection that they don't even flinch when Easton yells "Cooties!" into the air.

"Congratulations," the minister signs, "to Mr and Mrs Just."

I thrust the bouquet into Lilly's hands before she and JJ descend the aisle together, arm in arm. The clapping alone could lift the roof, but the whooping and cheers and stamping of feet from the Selected boys could shake the entire foundations of the cathedral. We sing them out the door, though my job isn't over yet. I'm still a bridesmaid, so I have to make sure everything runs smoothly.

And the reception is next. Where there is lots and lots of alcohol.

After a few photos for the media, the event becomes closed to the private photographers, hired personally by Lilly and JJ, giving free reign for particular members of the wedding party – namely the royals – to go a little crazy. The barn's dance floor is crammed with bodies in seconds. After my duties of shepherding everyone to the right seats for the banquet, then keeping watch on Easton, I'm exhausted before I've even had a chance to close my eyes.

"May I have this dance?"

I bolt up from my seat at the head table and almost whack Max with my arm. He has a bad habit of sneaking up on me – after three years together, I should be used to it, but I'm very much definitely not.

"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," he soothes.

My cheeks puff. "You should be more careful! I might accidentally punch you again!"

"Trust me, after the Shower Incident, I know better than to give you anything but a wide berth when I approach you from behind."

"In my defence, I had just watched a horror movie by myself and was showering alone."

"… I live with you. I said I was coming back late from work."

"Yes, well, that's in the past now."

"It was last week."

I pout, but he starts to chuckle, and I know he's only teasing me. I take his proffered hand to the dance floor. There are tons of people who aren't already plastered – the bride and groom, for one, who are swaying in contented bliss in each other's arms – so we're not alone in carving out a moment for our own happy existence.

"Everything okay?" Max asks over the pop-rock band.

I nod. "There was a little blip before the ceremony where the button on my dress fell off, but we managed to secure it with a safety pin. Otherwise it's gone really smoothly!"

"That's good," he says, and I think he's trailing off, as he does every so often now after he almost died – his mind was never quite as sharp as before – but then he says, "I should probably warn you, I overheard Zelda, Parker, and Jasper conspiring to spike the champagne."

"Oh no, they wouldn't… would they?"

Max makes a face. Of course they would.

"Zelda wasn't drinking anything, was she?"

"No."

Phew. "I should probably go warn someone before we leave." But I don't move, and Max pulls me a little closer.

"How long until the game?"

"I think we'll be okay if we leave in an hour."

"All right."

I wrap my arms around him, comforted in his presence. Max doesn't have to do or say anything sometimes. He just has to… be. That's what I like so much about him. That's why I love him.

I rest my head against his chest and watch the other couples. Rudy has let himself go a little too much and is stepping all over Durante's toes, but the captain doesn't seem to mind, laughing at Rudy's attempts to stand straight and speak a coherent sentence. Next to them, Aderyn and Rose are twirling and spinning and giggling together, happy as a pair of cucumbers. They are so cute, and I know both of them have bought each other rings – it's only a matter of time before a double proposal happens (low-key hoping I get to be a bridesmaid again, but no promises). Soren and his girlfriend have also taken to the floor; I haven't met her yet, but by the way Soren's face lights up whenever she smiles, she's good for him.

"Hey, do you mind if I cut in?"

"Ansel!" I cry, delighted to see my pale, blond friend. "Of course!"

Max surrenders me in time to offer my mother, idling at the edge of the floor, a dance. Omma laughs but takes it, and they sweep around between the couples. Omma's probably interrogating him, but Max doesn't seem to mind. Ansel and I enjoy the dance together.

"How are you? Are you doing okay? Are you eating well? You look really pale—"

"I'm fine, Gail," says Ansel, the corner of his lips quirked. "You haven't changed."

"I'm taller."

"That's debatable."

"How are you, really?" I ask. "Your banishment only recently got overturned…"

"I'm doing much better," he says, and it's earnest. "It's… been hard, but I cut off a lot of my unsupportive family. I couldn't have done that without your help."

"It was nothing."

"It wasn't nothing." He smiles. "I'm very grateful."

"Okay, then I was more than happy to help. Did you…" I halt, unsure whether I should broach the subject. "Did you get to talk to—?"

"Yeah," he interrupts. "Yeah, we talked."

"You're okay?"

"More than okay. It's good to see him again. He's doing well. So am I."

"Okay." I squeeze his shoulders. "I'm happy for you."

"Ansel, there you are!"

Avian slides up to us, with a very suspicious Max hanging on his arm.

Ansel grimaces. "I told you, I'm not going to throw the canapés at Kingsley to recreate the 'good times'—"

"Actually," Avian sticks out his tongue, "the other Selected are having a ginormous poker game on the back table. Lover boy here's in. You have to join."

Max passes me a look, almost in permission. "As long as it's not strip poker."

"No one wants to see your pasty ass, Wellington… Well. Except Gail."

"I think it's nice!" I chirrup.

"My condolences," he says, then turns to Ansel. "You in?"

With a roll of his eyes Ansel releases me. "Fine, but only a few games."

Avian drags both him and Max towards Soren to absorb him into the game as well. I head off the dance floor to get myself a drink. Then I kick off my heels (ssshhh, no one will notice me shrink an inch). By the head table, nine-year-olds Easton and June are a tangle of tussling limbs and war cries but are being pulled apart by an exasperated twelve-year-old Tay. I giggle as I watch my brother hold back their flailing arms. Those three will only get more mischievous as they get older. My eyes wander. Nearer the front of the barn, Cami is sitting alone at the table, nursing a glass of water, her attention pinned elsewhere.

"Not dancing?" I ask when I push a chair over.

"Oh, no," she smiles, "just happy to see them happy."

I follow my gaze. Running the perimeter of the room, Roy has two-year-old Crown Prince Harvey on his shoulders. Besides the Asian genes and dark hair they look nothing alike, but Harvey looks like he's having the time of his life, swinging his tiny arms around and making whooshing noises.

I grin. "He's fitting in well."

"Yes. Too well. He might start to pick up some of Roy's bad habits."

"You'll just have to counteract that with all your good habits."

Cami laughs. "Oh yes, like over-worrying?"

"Erm, well, I was thinking more like, folding your underwear neatly in the drawers and not leaving it out for unsuspecting siblings to see." I shudder. The froggie green underpants were too much for little me. "You're being a great mother, Cami. Please don't worry."

"Thanks." Her smile withers from nerves. "I'm just tired."

"When it's only 4pm? You're getting so old."

She tries to swat me. "And you're getting too sassy."

"Well, if you want to perk up, I can get you some coffee. Or a champagne? Zelda, Parker and Jasper might have spiked it though, so maybe don't have that."

"Why does that not surprise me?" She slides her hands on her lap. "Incidentally, I'm… not allowed to drink at the moment."

"Not allowed to—?"

It hits me like a meteor full of bricks.

"Oh my gosh, Cami—"

"He doesn't know yet," she whispers quickly, but the delight is plain on her face. "I don't want to upstage Lilly and JJ's big day and I'm… waiting for the right moment to tell him. When I'm a little further on. The treatments have been hard on both of us and I just… don't want to get his hopes up so soon."

I've been smiling so much all day that my cheeks hurt, but I can't help but do it now. "Oh, Cami, I'm so happy for you." I pause. "And you know, Gail is a very good name."

"What if it's a boy?"

"I said what I said."

She laughs. "I'll keep that in mind." But I know she's no closer to choosing Gail as a name than she is to choosing Roymilla (Roy insists it's a cute mashup, but every time we hear it Cami feigns a retching noise).

A great cry draws my attention. Kingsley slaps down his cards on the table and starts yelling "CHEATERS!" at Silas and Avian, who laugh hysterically as Elliot and Kajika laugh along with them. Maurice throws down his cards in frustration. Some of them aren't playing. Jeremiah and Yamato are chatting between Yamato getting swarmed by a group of Lilly and JJ's friends and family – he seems happy to answer their questions about his skating career and take photos. Aside from the boys who declined to come, like Nicholas, who didn't leave the palace on the best of terms, or Levi, who is too busy touring his new album, there's one person missing from the line-up.

"Have you seen Sheng?"

"He was at the ceremony," Cami remarks, reaching for her glass again. "I believe he had to go feed the horses."

Makes sense. I get up to go search for him.

"Gail," Cami takes my hand suddenly and smiles. "Thank you."

"It's safe with me."

"I know. Good luck today. I'm sure you'll do wonderfully."

I head towards the open barn doors, fresh sunlight curling across entrance, but then I see a familiar figure loping his way towards me. Three years hard work has changed Sheng – he's somehow, unfairly, fitter than he was before, and browner, with all the time he spends in the summer sun, but he's discarded his blazer and untucked his shirt.

"I was just coming to look for you!" I pipe. "The boys are playing poker."

"I didn't miss much, then."

"Zelda, Parker and Jasper—"

"Spiked the alcohol? Yeah. I figured they would try." He laughs – he's good at laughing now, better than he was before. "Shouldn't you be leaving soon?"

"Are you trying to get rid of me?"

"No, just concerned you'll miss your game."

"Even if we're a little late leaving, Max drives like a fiend. We'll make it."

Sheng raises an eyebrow in concern but makes no comment as I weave my arm with his and skip back to the table. Kingsley has just lost another round of chips.

"Horse boy!" he yells, when Sheng and I approach. "Finally! Someone whom I know won't deign to cheat!"

Avian cackles. "How were the horses?"

"Er," says Sheng. "Horsey."

"Ready to lose?"

"Ready to win."

"Ah, yes, just like you did on our Vegas trip?"

"… Shut up, Avian."

They deal him in and I watch, fascinated, as they inhabit their inner zoo animals, chanting, cheering, egging each other on to win the chips with zero monetary value, one step away from flinging poop. Kingsley eventually loses all of his chips and starts betting shots at the bar. They hoot and holler and even deal in JJ when he makes his rounds over, but loses when Ben challenges him to a history fact-off. Whatever that is.

At about 5pm my nerves clatter in my chest. On instinct, I find Zelda amongst the crowds, having a staring contest with June. June is so tired she slumps forward to sleep before Zelda can even declare herself the winner.

"Time to go."

"Already?" she asks, checking her phone. She curses. "Da— ang it. All right. I have to lump my sister with my dads—" She spots Rudy and Durante doing the chicken dance together on the floor. "On second thought, is your fam free?"

Roy and Cami are more than happy to watch June as well as Tay, Easton, and Harvey, who have taken to napping, Harvey snug on Cami's lap. Zelda goes to retrieve Rose and Aderyn from the corner of the barn, where they think no one can see them making out, and I find Lilly.

"Thank you," I sign. "I had such a great time."

She nods. "You're always welcome to come see me, Gail. Good luck today! I'll watch the highlights!"

Then I steal Max away from the poker game, just after he generously donates his chips to Kingsley. The guard detail is ready to leave when we get to the garage, and Max opens the door to his luxury saloon car for me. During the journey down to the city, Zelda, Rose and I pull out the fancy decorations and flatten the fat curls from our hair into something more manageable. We switch our shoes to sneakers, and I tug off my fake eyelashes.

"We're going to rock it today!" cheers Rose, when Max directs us into the parking lot. "I'm so excited I can hardly wait!"

"I'm so nervous I might be sick," Zelda mutters.

"Good thing you're not on the rink then," Aderyn laughs. "I have a sick bag though. You should take it."

"Why do you have sick bags on you?"

Aderyn sighs. "I had an ex—"

"Aaaaand that's all we need to know." Zelda hops out of the car. "Come on! Or they'll get mad that we're late!"

I come to Glendale Ice Rink so frequently now that the press don't bother to photograph my arrival anymore. They'll all be waiting inside, for the game, but the security detail does its due diligence and sweeps the area before allowing me inside. The place is newly redecorated after all the sponsorships and support, all trace of the Rebel Resurgence's ambush gone. The Voice and the Second have disappeared too, jailed for life, leaving what was left of the Rebel Resurgence divided – and divided they fell, but of course the powerful sentiment of bitterness they represented doesn't vanish overnight. There's always a chance, a risk. Max and I take that risk every day when we go home, to our place by the sea. We risk it whenever he goes to work to help catch the perpetually evasive Caspian Washington, whenever we dig for more details about Wella, whenever I travel to my goodwill projects across the nation.

But it's a risk I'm willing to take. A risk I'm happy to take, if it helps the people, and if it helps me feel more like… me.

"Good luck to you three!" Aderyn chimes as she gives us all hugs (saving the longest for Rose, of course). "I'll be cheering for you always."

"Good luck," Max echoes to us all, but his smile is fixed on me, a smile that makes me feel like I'm looking at him for the first time, every time. I take his arms and he takes mine, and I'm leaning forwards—

"Yeah, yeah, no time for mushy make-outs!"

Zelda grabs both Rose and I before I can finish what I started, and, laughing, we stumble into the changing rooms. The Angeles All-Stars women's second team slip their hands through sleeves and tighten the Velcro on guards and pads. Janet and Willow are doing trust falls together. Madison and Jocelyn are playing Patti cake. Bellona Strike palms the whiteboard to steady it as she draws her multitude of diagrams.

"Late!" she barks, but there's no real irritation in her voice. We're not playing in a tournament, after all. She gives us all a once-over before she says, "That heavy make-up will sweat off you if I have anything to say about it!"

I change and remove my make-up in five minutes. My All-Stars uniform goes over the top of my arm guards and shin pads, then I lace up my skates tightly.

"Captain?" Bellona says. "If you'll do the honours?"

Felice nods and moves to the centre of the changing room. There's a wicked scar down the side of her face, a reminder of the day she almost died to help me. I see it and I feel guilt, but then I remember that it was very much Felice's choice to come to my aid. That's just what comrades, what sisters do, and I would've done the same thing in her position for her, for anyone on my team.

(Besides, she insists she looks super edgy with it.)

"Just because this is another exhibition match, doesn't mean we can slack," Felice pronounces over the rustle of fabric and thump of skates. "The Calgary Canaries have a solid team, so that means we'll work harder than we ever have to defeat them."

She thrusts her hockey stick in. The All-Stars copy, and then we chant together, "Train as a team. Play as a team. Think as a team. When all else fails, we rely on our sisters to lead us to victory."

"Lamb, don't let up for a single second. Blumenthal, watch your side. Beezee," she glances at Zelda, "keep a good watch on them. Let's kick their asses. And Schreave," Felice turns to me, grinning, "give them hell."

The crowd that has come to watch us roars when we take to the rink, and the MC announces our names. At mine, at Gail Schreave, comes a wave of support, and I grin and wave as I warm up my limbs. The ice responds, a formidable force that works in tandem with me, my equal as it is my rock. Despite the Canaries' intimidating presence at the other side of the rink I look at the VIP box right at the front, where my security team waits, surrounding Aderyn, waving and clapping, and Max, who as always is watching me, as if I might disappear if he dares to glance away.

He smiles, one that melts all the worry in my chest. I can do this. I will.

When the klaxon blows, the puck is thrown into possession of the Canaries. I weave and dance around my opponents, seeking an opening, a slip-up. When the puck skitters close to out of bounds, I make my move, snatching it in the toe of my stick. Then I pass to Felice. Hockey sticks clash, ice churns, but she moves like a tank, charging through three Canaries before making a goal shot.

The goaltender slams her stick down. The angle. I seize the moment, bolting left. The puck rebounds, zooms left, and I steal it and shoot.

"The first goal goes to the Angeles All-Stars! Excellent rebound shot by Schreave!"

The crowd is wild with appreciation. There's a fire inside my chest, unquenchable, inextinguishable. I skate in a circle, devouring the cheers of the crowd. This is my home turf. This is where I belong.

I see Max on his feet, hands clasped together in excitement for me. Before I can stop myself, I skate towards him. I trip through the door between the rink and the audience, until he's right in front of me, and then I pull off my helmet to grab him for a kiss.

Despite my enthusiasm it's a tender thing, a promise to cherish him for as long as I can. Max cups my cheeks, and I feel him grin into my lips. I grin too, trying to withhold a giggle in my throat. I can't help it.

The world is changing, but I've never felt more myself.

More alive.


FIN.


A/N: Wow. This is the second time I've finished a long-fic SYOC, and you know, the feeling doesn't get any less satisfying and bittersweet. For the last A/N of TSATS (which is six today!) I declared that I 'didn't want to get sentimental', but unfortunately for you all that will not be the case here.

During the weirdness of the pandemic, writing The Rebound and the Rink has truly been a joy and a challenge, and I'm so, so grateful to you all for reading this fic and taking any happiness from it, in the way I've derived happiness from writing it. It was huge amounts of fun to follow the POV of Gail, my little spitfire princess hockey player, her friends and their shenanigans, and to change up the formula from Roy in TSATS (plus I barely killed anyone in this fic! That's good, right? RIGHT?).

I don't have enough thank yous in the universe to offer to every single reader and reviewer for TRATR, however I hope you can accept my most sincerest, humblest appreciation anyway. Your enthusiasm is the evergreen antidote to self-doubt. A ginormous thank you to the clowns on Discord, whose theorising, memery and excitement was fuel for my fingers. I loved sharing this story with you. A huge shoutout to anyone who reviewed here, but most especially to the indomitable GingersnapBeat and the marvellous Abizeau, who I think reviewed every single chapter?! Absolutely wild, thank you. I'm also going to shoutout comosayllama and rysarium; I loved each moment of your hysterical ravings every time I dropped the update. To the submitters, TRATR would not have been the same without your brain children, so thank you. And a second thank you to Ginger, for letting me continue to write the TSATS winner, Camilla; she's truly the rock (heh) amongst these characters, and I hope I did her justice.

In all, I don't think I would've been able to continue writing without your passion for this world and these characters, and it's been a pleasure and a blast to share this with you all, no matter whether you started with TSATS or TRATR. You help make me a better writer, so thank you, thank you, and thank you, x infinity.

As another chapter in the TSATSverse draws to a close, you might be wondering if there's any more madness to come. Whilst I can't confirm anything right now, I am in fact in the planning stages of a third (final?) instalment featuring the last Schreave sibling, Taeyang. And if I decide I don't want to write that immediately, I naturally have other Selection SYOC ideas running rampant in the mind palace (fantasy AU is still here, as is possible Alex Selection). If and when something will be released I can't say, but I plan to update here when I do, so feel free to follow me or this fic to stay in the know. In the meantime, I'm going to take a break from the Selection and continue my Harry Potter SYOC, A Conspiracy of Ravens (which is in its relative infancy, so if you want to hop on that train I won't stop you, hem hem), and work on my own original stuff. I'm on the fifth draft of my novel, which is very exciting![insert multiple exclamation marks]. Thank you to everyone who's read it; your feedback is invaluable. Fingers crossed my edits go well!

Finally, one last thank you for all your support. It means the world. And if you ever feel an itch to relive Gail's joy, anguish, or brownie-induced antics, TRATR will always be here to welcome you back…

All the best, you amazing people,

~ GreenWithAwesome